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Kuala Lumpur is a beautiful and colourful city with a vibrant culture. Here is all you need to know to make a visit and create unforgettable memories.
Malaysia may not rank high up on every Indian’s bucket list of Asian countries to visit, merely because other countries like Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia have always had a lot of publicity encouraging travel from the subcontinent.
Malaysia, in my opinion, is one such destination which can truly surprise the Indian traveler with its rich culture, heritage, and modernity. Experience it firsthand in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city and bustling metropolis where the past and present symbiotically merge in readiness for the future.
Here’s my simple travel guide, for a three or five day stay, to help you understand why Kuala Lumpur makes for a great holiday destination.
Getting into Kuala Lumpur from India is straightforward with multiple airlines offering direct flights into the capital. The duration of travel from any of the Indian metros is between three and five hours.
The E-visa option for Indians makes it an extremely attractive option; one needs to apply at least two weeks in advance before the date of departure.
If you happen to have a valid visa from Thailand, Singapore, or Indonesia, Indians are eligible for visa on arrival for a thirty day stay. This is a good carrot to consider clubbing Malaysia as a destination of interest along with the aforementioned countries. Three to five days is adequate to get a feel for Kuala Lumpur.
Monetarily, each Malaysian Ringgit averages to seventeen Indian rupees, which makes it relatively ‘affordable’. There are multiple currency exchange counters across the city that accept Indian rupees, so you don’t need to break the bank by getting dollars.
Transport on arrival
Once you arrive at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the adventure begins by taking the KLIA Express to KL Sentral, the heart of the city. This is the fastest means to get in and out of the airport, albeit a pricier one, but it beats spending anywhere between an hour, to two and a half hours by bus or private taxi. Traffic in Kuala Lumpur can be dense during peak hours.
Kuala Lumpur has several modes of public transportation for tourists to take advantage of- buses, the monorail, the MRT- but the fastest and easiest are the Grab taxi services, similar to Uber.
Petronas Twin Towers
The Petronas Twin Towers, an 88-floor twin structure that scrapes the skies at 451.9 meters, makes it a cannot miss for all tourists. There is a paid ticket option to travel up and get a breathtaking view of the city, but I’d recommend taking a selfie or photographs with the towers in the background instead.
Musical water fountain
If you time your visit well in the evenings, you can even catch a programmed musical water fountain with lights display at the manmade Lake Symphony situated in the vicinity. It’s colorful, entertaining, and free.
Once done, walk into Suria KLCC, a shopping mall with upscale retail brands, alongside the towers. Spend time at the art gallery, science center, the underwater aquarium, or just window shop in the mall.
Sultan Abdul Samad Building
If you’re a history buff, check out the National Museum the details Malaysia’s history or the Islamic Art Museum. You can also visit the National Textile to learn the history of Malaysian textiles. There’s also the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, an impressive building made entirely of bricks which has western and Moorish architecture. It is quite spectacular to look at.
There’s also the Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Murugan. The caves exist because of the limestone formations around it. It is 400 million years old, and has the tallest Lord Murugan statue in the world. The devout and the curious are welcome here.
Kuala Lumpur is mall country. The city has malls that offer various retail brands for shopaholics to go ga-ga over. Pavilion Kuala Lumpur Shopping mall, Suria KLCC, and Mid Valley Mega mall are three places where you can beat the heat, humidity or rain, and indulge in retail therapy. They also have free WiFi!
If mall hopping isn’t your thing, head to Jakel mall where you can buy batik – beautiful multicolored textiles adorned with geometric patterns, leaves, and flowers. The hand-painted ones are mighty expensive, so why not buy commercially printed fabric with batik motifs to make an outfit for yourself? It makes for a good souvenir that you’ll use for a long time.
Image: By Nazir Amin – Flickr: batik shop, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link
Speaking of souvenirs, visit Hanifa Department store near Jamal Masjid where you can load up on popular brands of chocolate, including durian chocolate, as well as nuts, raisins, cranberries, dried mango and crystallized ginger which make great goodies for the family back home.
My favorite discovery in Kuala Lumpur was Petaling Street in China town where I discovered a shopper’s haven for fake goods.
Yes, you read right, fake goods. Expect to find watches, wallets, purses, clothes, handbags, and luggage from brand like Coach, Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabanna, Juicy Couture, Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger, Rolex, Omega, and Kipling, and many more at a tenth of their original proce. Remember to bargain hard. There are also numerous kiosks where you can find Malaysian magnets, keyrings, mugs, bags, and other printed paraphernalia to prove you’ve holidayed in Malaysia.
Food and drink play an influential role in sustaining interest and encouraging travel to a destination. Malaysian cuisine has all the spices, flavors, carbohydrates and proteins to make it very attractive to even the most selective Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian palate. All food is halal, as the country is predominantly Islamic.
Starting with beverages, Malaysian coffee called Kopi is deep, thick, and flavored with condensed milk! Staunch tea drinkers, worry not, for Teh Tarik, or tea with evaporated or condensed milk is also available. Don’t forget to try Milo, a chocolate malt beverage that is affordable and sold at every nook and corner. Try Kopi and Teh, in hot, cold, and iced variations, at Kopi tiams which are traditional coffee shops.
Image: User: (WT-shared) Shoestring at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons
For meals, ready yourself for hearty dishes of rice or noodles, with curries glossed in coconut milk and aromatic spices. Nasi Lemak, deemed Malaysia’s national dish, is rice steeped in coconut milk, pandan leaves, served with peanuts, cucumber, boiled eggs, and choice of protein.
Nasi Lemak image: pixabay
Try the Laksa which is flat rice noodles in a soup of coconut, spices, and fish or chicken. Nasi Goreng and Satays take on new flavors in their home country. Spicier, meaty stews preparations called Rendang are not to be missed. All of these dishes are available in vegetarian options everywhere.
Laksa image: Flickr
If it’s a snack you’re craving, try the Roti Canai, which is a refined flour ‘roti, and can be eaten as is with a generous slathering of butter, or with eggs, curries, or even Nutella! Yum.
Roti Canai image: Flickr
Malaysia famous fruit produce deserves to be mentioned – visit a local market or supermarket and be dazzled by mangosteen, logan, dragonfruit, rambutan, soursop, pomelos, and starfruit, all of which can be eaten fresh or drank as juices from juice stores and kiosks. I must mention the most famous fruit whose reputation and smell has left many affected – durian! An acquired taste is an understatement and only the brave or savage sample durian, a smelly decaying beast of a fruit. Dare if you must, while the rest of us make do by eating chocolate with miniscule particles of durian in it.
For our sweet tooth, Malaysia doesn’t disappoint. There is an abundance of desserts made of coconut milk, palm sugar, and pandan leaves. Try the pandan cake, a sponge cake flavored with pandan and tinted light green to begin with, or slurp on cendol which is an iced dessert with green jelly noodles in coconut milk and palm sugar that reminded me of falooda. Sago pudding, coconut candy, halvas, and laddoos are abundantly available and safe bets.
Cendol image: pixabay
Kuala Lumpur has a bustling and burgeoning nightlife, guaranteed to keep any night bird up till dawn. Bukit Bintang is the entertainment district. Head to Changkat in Bukit Bintang where the streets come alive at night. It has several restaurants serving global and local cuisine, pubs where the alcohol rarely runs dry, discotheques where DJS spin the latest jam, or even a standup comedy or indie performances.
Bukit Bintang image: See page for author [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
The most phenomenal sky top bar is the Heli Lounge Bar, which is a commercial helipad by day that transforms into a rooftop bar and lounge by night. How cool is that? This is quite an experience to be able to take in the beautiful unadulterated view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline, thirty-six storeys up. While cover change is involved to access the lounge, you can enter the roof top bar for free, provided you arrive between 6 and 9 pm. They are sticklers for dress code after 9 pm once the night club experience begins, so remember to dress well to avoid any disappointments.
No trip to Asia is complete without massage therapy, and Kuala Lumpur has its own unique offering. While most would prefer frilly spa treatments, I’d recommend Shu Jin Therapy zone in Bricklands, where you can get a no-nonsense massage from a trained blind masseuse. The experience is unlike anything you may have experienced before because of the masseuse’s heightened sense of touch.
All massages are done fully clothed and one can opt for reflexology, or a traditional body massage for anywhere between thirty minutes to an hour. Extremely affordable and you’ll leave feeling better and with a newfound appreciation for Malaysian massage therapy.
To the unacquainted, Kuala Lumpur should not be dismissed. It should be embraced because its vibrancy and multifaceted cultures are best experienced in person.
Come to Kuala Lumpur. It is calling. The question is, are you listening?
Header image: pixabay
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